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Obsession’s Logical Conclusion
By: Michael Beckett
Being the sequel to what is often considered a masterpiece of tactical RPG design and storytelling, expectations were high for Final Fantasy Tactics Advance to equal or surpass it’s predecessor. While a more in-depth and well-developed plot as well as a more complex and interesting ability list makes FFT the better game, Tactics Advance is by no means bad, only slightly less original.
Taken almost entirely from the original Final Fantasy Tactics, the combat system, with it’s classes and AP, will seem very familiar to veterans of nearly any other tactical RPG. It’s largest flaw lies in the ability list; while individual classes do have unique commands, these commands often overlap abilities to the point where three separate classes may share a single skill. The most unique thing that separates Tactics Advance from its genre cousins is the Judge System, by which laws forbidding certain moves are enacted. At first glance the idea of having randomly generated laws preventing players from using a certain strategy may seem needlessly restrictive, and it does force the gamer to build his party flexibly. However, the amount of variety that the Judge System lends combat, along with the lengths the designers went to make the laws as changeable as possible, more than makes up for the occasional inconvenience they produce. Overall, the combat system of FFTA is a work of no small skill.
While none of the fights in FFTA quite reach the level of difficulty set by its predecessor, it does resemble its forebear in that it is an exceptionally easy game up until the one-on-one battles.
With it’s combat system taken from FFT and it’s ability system taken from Final Fantasy IX, FFTA follows a bit too much in the footsteps of it’s predecessors to be given a truly astronomical score in originality. However, due credit must be given for the highly unique Law system and unusual, if barebones, plot.
The story of FFTA follows a young man named Marche and his friends, Ritz, Mewt and Doned, as they stumble upon an ancient book – the Gran Grimoire – which allows them to change the world in any way they see fit. Mewt uses the book to mutate the town of Ivalice and it’s surroundings into a Final Fantasy universe, replete with Moogles, Tonberries, and other staples of Square’s flagship series. The fact that Final Fantasy exists in the same universe as the characters lends the plot a meta-game feeling. That is, the plot isn’t just about the characters in it, but also about the nature of RPGs and video games and the effect they have on the people who play them. It’s a story that may hit a little too close to home for some of us where escapism is concerned. The problem with the story lies not in the ideas behind it, but in the execution. FFTA’s mission-based gameplay fractures the plot, and leaves the events feeling disconnected, a problem it shares with the oft-maligned Legend of Mana. Combined with rushed writing and average translation, it leaves FFTA’s plot feeling incomplete and bare bones, especially when compared with Final Fantasy Tactics’ labyrinthine political machinations.
The omission or over-complication of several fairly basic features hurts FFTA a great deal. For instance, the game omits the ability to review or equip your party without leaving the store, making purchasing equipment something of a guessing game. In combat, the player is sometimes left without the ability to call up reference windows, making some turns a guessing game. Field controls are decent, however, and the ability to check the status of locations and laws was a nice touch.
The music of FFTA is far and away one of the best soundtracks to be found on the GBA. The soundtrack, by Hitoshi Sakimoto and Nobuo Uematsu, boasts some exceptional composition and sound quality, though it could have benefited from a longer tracklist. As it stands, the four or five combat themes get old very quickly, and though the music does set the scene well - particularly in the opening and ending sequences - a bit more variety would have helped the individual tracks to feel more like individual tracks. Sound effects by and large are unimpressive, save for the screams of the dying.
Graphically, FFTA has a wealth of quality animation and style. In particular, spell animations and character portraits are quite impressive, though occasional minor slowdown issues can be distracting. The overall style is very cohesive and evokes an almost middle-eastern culture, full of minarets and sandstone, although I sometimes wonder if Mewt could have created a world with this much obvious artistic skill.
With a wealth of rare equipment and some 300 missions (many of which are optional), as well as a full epilogue and a horde of secret characters, FFTA can be completed in anywhere from 20 to over 100 hours, depending on your level of obsession. Although it is quite possible to complete everything FFTA has to offer in one run-through, the wide variety of classes, races and abilities makes FFTA a more than worthwhile repeat play.
FFTA is a game that tries very hard to live up to a huge legacy. Though it sometimes fails, Tactics Advance is a solid purchase with wide appeal. Though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to young or novice RPGamers, I would recommend it to those who enjoyed the first game, as well as the completists amongst us, and to those gamers who are constantly on the lookout for an unusual story.
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